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Pentax's new entry-level SLR brings sensor-shift stabilized 720p HD video, in-camera HDR,and 4.7fps on a 12.4 CMOS chip to the low-budget pack just in time for the holiday rush.
Family traits including the cool in-camera HDR processing we raved about at the K-7 launch time, 720p HD video (this time at the '"cinematic" 24 frames per second) with pre-recording autofocus capabilities, creative digital filters, color profile microadjustments, lens correction options, d-range adjustments for shadow and highlight tone curve tweaks, just to rattle off a few.
But on the same token, the K-x isn't weather-tough, nor does it have an audio in for stereo capture during video. There's no 2.5mm remote port, nor an HDMI jack. But the K-x isn't just a more economical, pared-down version of the K-7, for the $649.00 list price plus the 18-55mm kit lens. It is a heck of a lot of camera in the ever more complex entry level interchangable lens hybrid still and HD video class of cameras. It is also worth noting that with the introduction of the Pentax K-x, the entire Pentax camera line now features 720p HD video. We can't think of any other camera manufacturer with complete HD video integration, can you?
Competition in this arena comes not just from SLRs such as Canon's EOS Rebel T1i–another APS-C chipped camera–pentabumped out of design necessity for the optical viewfinder, but also from the micro four-thirds upstarts such as the retro-rangefinder styled Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic's SLR-styled Lumix GH1 with a pentabump housing a pop-up strobe and some of the circuitry for the electronic viewfinder as a design element meant to mirror the familiar look of the classic SLR camera, albeit in a more compact package. It is a nightmare for tech editors and retail site taxonomists, but for photographers, this wealth of new offerings in the hybrid space is fantastic.
In light of all this, and after the buzz about Pentax's "storm trooper white limited edition" K2000, it's no surprise to learn that the Pentax K-x will be shipping in white, navy blue, and red versions, in addition to basic black. The recent burst of color in the camera market has been bubbling up from the compact market, and Panasonic's colorful m4/3 offerings are for sure part of the inspiration for these K-x variations that break the Model T black mold that prevails in so much SLR design. Many an old curmudgeon may balk at a white or bright red SLR, but for new-school shooters, and step-up consumers looking for a still/video hybrid, the colors might be a key fun feature. We'll have to wait and see how the non-black versions of the K-x are received by consumers.
Update 10:30AM 9/17/09: Check out the 100 colors, 100 styles Japanese microsite for more potential color combinations of the new K-x.
Whether new-school, or old-school, the K-x offers a heck of a lot of camera in a small, economical package. It'll fire off 4.7 frames per second for about 17 JPEG frames before stuttering down a bit–very respectable in the entry-level class. It will likewise burst 5 RAW frames in either DNG or PEF format before buffer clog–again, very respectable in-class performance. Sensor-shift stabilization during video capture appeared very effective in our pre-production model (as a pre-pro running Firmware version 0.3, we cannot release still or video in this preview), very similar to the results from a production version of the K-7.
With less surface area than the K-7, and without a top LCD, much more of the operations are menu-driven, which can take some adjustment for bigger SLR shooters looking for a smaller, more economical backup. But for the step-up shooters that Pentax has in their focus with the K-x, this isn't nearly the same issue. The 2.7 inch 230,000 dot LCD does a good job in playback and live view capture for both stills and video, even in sunlight. Menus are clean and crisp at default settings, and it is a very appreciated touch that users can adjust font size for easier viewing. This is a feature we wish other manufacturers would "borrow!"
In-camera HDR capture and processing is nearly identical to the K-7's, although processing is a bit faster in the K-x, since there's a few less megapixels being crunched. As with the K-7, in-camera HDR processing yields the best results in true high dynamic range situations. Hardcore HDRI enthusiasts will be very pleased to note that although the Auto Exposure Bracketing sequence is limited to three frames, it allows for up to 3EV spread, and this extra EV on both ends equals a lot more dynamic range headroom than many competitors in this class that simply offer +/-1 or +/-2 spacing.
All in all, the Pentax K-x is a cool, solidly built entry-level camera with a very class-competitive feature set, although that class isn't as clearly defined as it was a few years ago.
Is the Pentax K-x a step-up SLR for an EVF or compact user. Yes.
Is the Pentax K-x a rock-solid competitor to the m4/3 offerings from Panasonic and Olympus. Certainly.
And does the Pentax K-x offer enough of a feature set to appeal to hardcore Pentaxians looking for a second body for some reason or another–be it economical SLR-based HD video to complement their gently used K20D, or a backup to their brand-new K-7? Absolutely.
Read our News Desk coverage of the announcement of the Pentax K-x, and stay tuned for a full field report once production units are available.
What are your thoughts on the new Pentax K-x? Let us know!